This is one of the most frequently-asked questions for fitness professionals. Extra belly fat and “love handles” arise when your body accumulates excess fat, and there’s no easy fix; spot-reducing is a myth. To get a firmer midsection, you’ll need to lose excess fat all over your body, and this will require increasing your physical activity level, improving your eating habits, and, if stress is an issue for you, learning to cope with it in healthful ways. Get started with these tips:
1. Identify a support person — a friend or family member you can trust to offer encouragement and accountability as you change your lifestyle to reach your goals. Be specific in the type of support you ask for.
2. Measure your waistline at the level of your belly button and the widest part of the top of your hips. This will serve as your baseline; re-measure about every 6 weeks to check your progress.
3. Keep a meal diary. Like many people, you may underestimate the amount of calories you’re eating and drinking. Writing it down keeps you accountable to yourself.
4. Eat fewer processed foods and more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you need guidance regarding calories, portions, or number of servings for each type of food, talk to a registered dietitian. For general information, visit the ACE Daily Caloric Needs Estimate Calculator or the USDA’s Choose My Plate resource.
5. Weigh yourself once a week, and track it. Losing ½ to 2 pounds a week is a realistic and healthful rate.
6. With your health care provider’s permission, get moving. One of the easiest ways to start is to walk briskly for 20-30 minutes a day. Gradually work up to 30 minutes, 5 days a week of a moderate-vigorous activity of your choice. After your fitness level improves, you may be ready for higher-intensity workouts, which can help further reduce total-body fat and fat covering the abdominal muscles.
7. Wear a pedometer to track your daily steps and gradually build up to 10,000 steps a day. The amount of calories you can burn from increasing everyday activity is significant.
8. Perform muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. For best results, consult a certified personal trainer for a program tailored to your needs and goals. This should include core exercises designed to improve stability in your abs, back, pelvis, and hips. Doing these exercises will also improve definition and appearance of your abdominal muscles — especially as you lose excess fat.
9. Pay attention to how you manage stress. High levels of chronic stress are associated with increased belly fat. Start by listing your stressors; then, categorize them as stressors you can control (like your attitude) and those you can’t (like the weather). Then, explore new ways of coping with each type of stress. The bonus? When you keep stress under control, you’re more likely to stay on track with healthy habits like exercise and good nutrition.
Sporting a svelte waistline is only one of the many benefits of adopting a healthier lifestyle. Stick with it, and you’ll feel better than you have in years.